Once the native home of the now-extinct dodo, a popular haunt for pirates (legend has it that hungry corsairs caused the extinction of the flightless bird) and, more recently, a playground for for European royals (Prince William and Princess Caroline among them) Mauritius is famous for its powdery platinum sand beaches, volcanic mountain backdrops and immaculate offshore islands, most commonly reached by catamaran. The island lies in the crossroads between Asia and Africa, yet firmly channels a vibe that owes far more to the Caribbean Creole culture than that of the Oriental. Sparkling turquoise and indigo waters beckon from every glorious sandy cove along the island’s hundred-mile coastline (Mauritians love the beach, and, as you’ll no doubt realise, their ideal way to spend a weekend afternoon is to get the extended family together for a gargantuan picnic on the shore).
With world-class diving, tea and rum plantations and a lively cultural mix, Mauritius is an island that goes way beyond ravishing beaches and begs to be experienced and explored to the full. Remnants of the British colonial era remain in the Gymkhana Club and driving on the left, but alouda pillay, gateaux piment and dholl puri stalls at local markets, hip-gyrating Sega shows and, of course, the omnipresent dodo icon, add a distinct hint of the exotic. Watch out for Indian temples, botanic gardens, the opportunity to walk with lions and the chance to spot rare birds among chattering flocks in the towering ebony trees. Underwater, there are sunken lava caves and barnacle-crusted wrecks waiting to be discovered. The best scuba and snorkelling sites are found around the offshore islands: here, divers can get head-to-head with lobsters, jacks, groupers and grey reef sharks, with ubiquitous rainbow-coloured angelfish and parrotfish thrown in for dazzling effect.

People

Immense fun (any chance to make a joke or tease you and they’ll take it - with a face-splitting smile), tremendously friendly and cheerfully generous-spirited, Mauritians are descendants of European (mostly French) settlers, African slaves and creoles, Chinese traders and Indian labourers. The rich cultural diversity of their heritage together with their geographic isolation have led to a strong sense of national pride - there’s a deeply-felt unity in being a Mauritian. Although there’s no “official religion”, for example, religion plays an important role in daily life with Hindus, Tamils, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and others living together in harmony and mutual respect. Perhaps this laissez-faire attitude is why Mauritians are famed for their warm welcomes, fabulous hospitality and why visitors to the island universally praise the service to the skies.

Places

Most visitors to Mauritius prefer to move around in taxis driven by local drivers. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, we suggest renting a car. There’s some serious fun to be had when you’re travelling under your own steam - discovering a secret beach or stumbling upon an incredible local restaurant, for example. Be aware, though – don’t rely completely on your GPS (unless you want to end up nose deep in a sugarcane field with an audience of amused rabbits!). Ask for directions – English is widely understood and spoken and Mauritians are very used to giving directions to tourists. If you’re planning on visiting every corner of the island you can, here’s a quick guide to to 5 must-see places.
  
Ganga Talao (Grand Bassin)
An extinct volcano, the crater lake of Grand Bassin, high up in the mountains about 1800 feet above sea level, is the most sacred Hindu place on the island. According to legend the lake is connected with the holy river Ganges. The god Shiva and his wife Parvati were flying around the world as he wanted to show Parvati the most beautiful places on earth. Naturally, they stopped in Mauritius. Shiva was carrying the river Ganges on his head and when he landed, he accidentally spilled drops of holy water into the crater – this is how Grand Bassin emerged. On the spot, you’ll find a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri, Mauritians will make pilgrimages on foot from their homes to the lake, carrying religious carts (Kawals) the entire journey.
  
La Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes (La Vanille Crocodile & Nature Park)
Located in the South of Mauritius, La Vanille is set in an area of the island that has, more than any other, kept a feeling of “Old Mauritius”, in its utterly unspoilt scenery and equally unspoilt historic traditions. Obviously, the star of the show at La Vanille is without doubt the crocodile, but be prepared to see a wealth of other spectacular flora and fauna. Keep your eyes peeled for giant bats, giant tortoises, monkeys and a huge butterfly and insect collection. You can hike through the jungle, learn about the endangered species indigenous to Mauritius, and if you’re feeling daring, even have a taste of crocodile curry in the restaurant.
  
Île Aux Cerfs (Deer Island)
This large island off the East coast of Mauritius was once mostly populated by cerfs (stags; imported for hunting from Java). However, its spectacular white sandy beaches, picture-perfect palm trees and vodka-clear waters have fast become a main attraction for tourists who bake happily under the tropical sun or laze in the warm azure waters. Few of them realise, though, that the island boasts over 4km of powder-sand paradise. Just take a quick kilometre walk down the beach and you'll arrive at an idyllic ocean vista that you can have all to yourself. Alternatively, if you don’t mind the crowds, stay and relax on the main beach, enjoy a BBQ and maybe even have a go at parasailing to enjoy stunning aerial views of this most beautiful island.
  
Le Champ de Mars, Port Louis
For a memorable day out, put on your finery, have a flutter on the horses with the betting-crazy crowd and enjoy canapés and cocktails with the socialites of Mauritius at the Champ de Mars racecourse. The oldest racecourse in the southern hemisphere, it was once was a military training ground until the Mauritius Turf Club was founded in 1812, making it the second-oldest racecourse in the world. The racing season lasts from around April to late November, with meetings usually held on a Saturday or Sunday and tickets for the stands ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 100 (admission to the rest of the ground is usually free). The biggest race of all is the Maiden Cup in September.
  
Black River Gorges National Park
Set in the central highlands of south-west Mauritius and extending over an area of 6,754 hectares, the Black River Gorges is the biggest national park on the island - and the best. Famous for its waterfalls, vistas and hiking, it’s a wild expanse of rolling hills and thick forest covering roughly 2% of the island's surface. Once prime hunting grounds, the area became a protected reserve in 1994 after scientists identified over 300 species of flowering plant, nine endemic species of bird and a giant fruit bat population of over 4000. It's hard to overstate the importance of this park – it's the last stand for Mauritian forests and an important habitat for three of the island's most endangered birds: the Mauritius kestrel, the echo parakeet and the pink pigeon. (Watch out also for wild boar, macaque monkeys and deer wandering at will through the sweeping old-growth ebony.) In short, the Black River Gorges is unquestionably the most spectacular corner of the island, so if you make only one day trip from the coast, make it here.
   

Pleasures

Whatever your pleasure, chances are Mauritius has it wrapped up. If you like activity - and lots of it - the island offers a selection of sports covering sea, air and land. From parasailing, water skiing, sea kayaking, biking, hiking, kitesurfing, windsurfing and diving - just take your pick.
If food’s your thing, you’ve landed in culinary heaven. The colourful mix of ethnicities – Indian, French, Creole, African, and Chinese – lends Mauritian food unique bursts of unforgettable flavours. Add to this a mix of tropical fruit, exotic vegetables, and fresh seafood and the result is a cuisine that’s simply irresistible. But although some restaurants do provide Mauritian food, the best way to discover the authentic taste of the island is to take to the streets and visit city centres, markets (the Port Louis Central Market is particularly good) and street corners for some of the best eats on offer.
Dholl Puri is a must-try. Practically the Mauritian national dish, these individually wrapped Mauritian flatbreads are filled with curried yellow split-peas and served with sourly piquant achars (pickles) and chutney. Another national favourite is tiny Victorian Pineapples sprinkled with a colourful mix of coarse sea-salt and red chilli flakes - the simple savoury notes of the salt and the spiciness of the chilli imbues the sweet pineapples with a truly amazing complexity of flavour. Also make sure you taste other delicacies like Pain frire (fried bread cakes), Gato patate (sweet potato cakes stuffed with coconut and sugar), Gato bringel (bringel fried cakes), Gato pomme de terre (fried potato cakes). Then there’s Bouillon Brèdes, a soup made of edible leaves such as chayote, watercress or pak-choi. It’s usually accompanied by rice and is served with assorted chutneys and pickles like Chatini poisson-salée (salt fish chutney) or the Chatini Cotomili (coriander leaf chutney). So very Mauritius, so very heavenly.
Should you fancy a spot of restaurant dining during your stay, the coast's best off-resort restaurant is La Cravache d'Or in Trou aux Biches. Its décor may well shriek colonial Caribbean, but the cooking is Paris on a plate (shrimp tagine or fresh dorado accented with Creole touches anyone?) without having to shell out a fortune. Dinner for two with wine, dessert and appetiser usually comes in comfortably under $100.
Spot of shopping? Again, you’ll be spoilt for choice - the list of great places to shop is a long one. However, Port Louis’s Central Market is an excellent place to start. The centre of the local economy since Victorian times, it's a great place to get a feel for local life, watch the hawkers at work and pick up local produce like fruit, vegetables (including Chinese herbal medicines and aphrodisiacs!) and seafood. If you’re souvenir-hunting, a wide variety of Mauritian handicrafts are available, along with souvenir t-shirts. Remember to bargain hard; start by slashing the price quoted by 25% at the very least and end up with a bargain.
Next up, there’s Flacq Market. Set in the village of Flacq, close to Belle Mare, it’s the largest open-air market in Mauritius, catering for both locals and for tourists who are looking for something authentic. You’ll also find beautifully fresh produce from every corner of the island, giving the market its unique Mauritian charm.
Another favourite is Rose Hill Market. The second largest town in Mauritius, Rose Hill’s market is an absolute treat for shoppers with its many shopping arcades, boutiques and food stalls. The market here is more of a bazaar, selling everything from fruit and vegetables to arts and crafts and electronics.
  

Do

Shake hands. A handshake is the customary form of greeting, although friends and family generally share a kiss on the cheek Remove shoes (and possibly leather belts) when entering mosques and temples. Women should carry a sarong to use as a headscarf or emergency skirt when going inside a holy place
Bring a gift if invited for a meal
Tip for excellent service, even though it’s not compulsory
Take one or two bottles/tubes of mosquito repellent if you’re planning to visit in the summer
  

Don’t

Wear shorts, mini-skirts or sleeveless shirts when visiting a religious shrine
Touch statues, carvings and religious artefacts in places of worship Sunbathe nude or topless under any circumstances
Leave personal belongings or valuable items on the seat(s) of cars or buses unattended
Change your money in your own country. You’ll almost certainly get a better rate in Mauritius
  

Best time to go

Located in the Indian Ocean, just 20 degrees south of the equator, Mauritius enjoys a tropical climate that’s greatly affected by southeast trade winds. The weather is generally warm and pleasant the whole year long, with the island's peak season extending from October to April, which is hot, humid and rainy, with a slight risk of cyclones from January to March. The island's winter, from May to September, is warm and dry, with fewer mosquitoes.
   

Best way to go

A relatively isolated island of breathtaking beauty, one of the most efficient ways to travel to and round Mauritius is also one of the most pleasurable. By boat, of course.
Moor in Grand Baie, spend some time admiring the bright colours of the Tamil Surya Oudaya Sangam Temple and exploring the bars and restaurants and decide where you go from here. Maybe want to hire a car and drive inland to whichever destination you choose? No problem. Your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, meaning your trip is completely customisable.
Your boat’s customisable too…just choose from any of the beautifully equipped vessels
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Mauritius